Evidence for rapid phenotypic and behavioural shifts in a recently established cavefish population

Suzanne E. McGaugh, Sam Weaver, Erin N. Gilbertson, Brianna Garrett, Melissa L. Rudeen, Stephanie Grieb, Jennifer Roberts, Alexandra Donny, Peter Marchetto, Andrew G. Gluesenkamp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Cave colonization offers a natural laboratory to study an extreme environmental shift, and diverse cave species from around the world often have converged on robust morphological, physiological and behavioural traits. The Mexican tetra (Astyanax mexicanus) has repeatedly colonized caves in the Sierra de El Abra and Sierra de Guatemala regions of north-east Mexico ~0.20-1 Mya, indicating an ability to adapt to the cave environment. The time frame for the evolution of these traits in any cave animal, however, is poorly understood. Astyanax mexicanus from the Río Grande in South Texas were brought to Central Texas beginning in the early 1900s and colonized underground environments. Here, we investigate whether phenotypic and behavioural differences have occurred rapidly between a surface population and a geographically proximate cave population, probably of recent origin. Fish from the cave and surface populations differ significantly in morphological traits, including coloration, lateral line expansion and dorsal fin placement. Striking behavioural shifts in aggression, feeding and wall-following have also occurred. Together, our results suggest that morphological and behavioural changes accompanying cave colonization can be established rapidly, and this system offers an exciting and unique opportunity for isolating the genetic and environmental contributions to colonization of extreme environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-161
Number of pages19
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.


  • Astyanax mexicanus
  • Edwards-Trinity aquifer
  • cave tetra
  • rapid colonization


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